Monday, November 19, 2012

Take away interpersonal lessons

I've taken a very ground up approach in my study of cognition, and I can't say that I regret it. But I also can't recommend that type of approach to anyone that isn't going to take it quite so seriously.
Most of the value that I've gotten from my efforts has not come from the cool party tricks, like making someone forget their own name or sticking someone to the ground. It hasn't even come from the more serious uses of "hypnosis" or even organically occurring trance. Besides purely internal changes (which is the subject of a future post), most of the value has come from my day to day interactions with other people.
My understanding of cognition has given me the ability to get my point of view seen (and felt) in its entirety by others - instead of being prematurely rejected due to shitty thinking. And it has also helped me determine what my point of view should be.
Most of the value has come from having a better understanding of the structure of cognition and having strategies for navigating the space. Since these skills are mostly describable by higher level abstractions, it is not necessary to have the lower level understanding to reap a lot of the benefits. The lower level understanding does have a profound effect on how I see and use the higher level stuff, and it also lets me play some fun games using legit hypnosis, but it is possible to do a lot without it.
While I can't recommend that everyone dive into this as seriously as I did, I really do recommend that everyone get a handle on the high level summary, keep it in mind in future interactions, and start honing these skills. And while I cannot, in one blog post, tell you everything you need to know to instantly reap all of these benefits, I am going to give you a mental framework in which to build these skills. It's gonna take practice, but the good news is that you already interact with people, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to work on it.

Model the structure of their thoughts
If I had to pick one most important piece, this would be it. This piece is the reason the blog is titled "cognitive engineering" instead of "cognitive witchcraft". This piece makes the rest possible. Instead of looking at all the new psych studies as if they present the possible existence of a distinct module that explains the issue (e.g. "hyperbolic discounting is a thing!"), find the underlying structure on which it is built (e.g. "People tend to engage in more vivid reality simulation for things near term because the need to plan actions becomes urgent, and this vivid simulation conditions stronger effects on felt motivations"). Once you have a way to see the pieces on the board, you can actually get to work in finding their relationships and manipulating them towards favorable outcomes.
Forget the "shoulds". It doesn't help to focus on the fact that they should be doing something differently. Stop labeling the black boxes "stupid" and "irrational" - Open the damn box and look inside. Ask what kind of algorithm generates that appearance. Use the native architecture - really develop rapport and empathize to help simulate in your own mind what it would actually be like - keeping in mind that peoples actions tend to feel sensible from the inside. If you're thinking "I can't even imagine what must be going on in their mind!", you're taking pride in your ignorance. Stop it. Once you realize that understanding crazy actually helps you be more sane, you can actually give it a shot and pick up this skill.
And remember, people don't run on shoulds. They should, of course, but that's doesn't actually help. They don't run on abstract logic either. They run on associations. Coherence isn't required by the architecture.  Ugh-fields exist. Phobias exist. Little Albert didn't have to have a verbal level belief that "fur is dangerous" to act the way he did. He just had to have an association between fur and fear. Since coherence is so poorly enforced, be really careful about making blanket statements that someone "believes" something, or what a feeling is "saying". The way to understand what they mean is look at it in which contexts they're stronger and in which they're weaker. Maybe it turns out that Yvain's "fear of ghosts" is really just the fear of being alone in the dark, or maybe it's the fear of homeless squatters. Simulating different hypotheticals should sort out how the fear is actually functioning.
Be on the look out for incongruent behavior and subconscious cues. Are they saying it like its a matter of fact, or like they're trying to convince someone? The latter is a strong sign that there's an opposing force inside. Do they qualify and otherwise weaken their statements or use euphemisms? Perhaps they haven't truly acknowledged it. Do they get more agitated around a certain topic? Hear any sighs of relief? Strong emotions leave traces, and they're important.

Know the path to victory
Before you start, try to get a feel for what the core objections are. Think about what other objections there are and whether you can bypass them or if you need to work through them first.
Keep your eyes peeled for updates of course. And don't worry too much about the fine grained plan, since you can't foresee everything. Just make sure you have an idea of where you're going so you don't get lost even if everything is going smoothly.
Have some conversations with your inner model of them. Try handing simulated-them the conclusion and see what they say. Why are they wrong? Iterate until you have a game plan. If you're stuck without a game plan, start the conversation there. Ask questions to draw a map of how they see things. Then see if you see a path. If you're still stuck, consider just asking why they don't accept your conclusion - and be very open to changing your own mind.

Get them to shut up and listen
This is all hypnosis is - getting them to shut up and listen. Get them out of their own way. Stop them from coming up with objections. There are a lot of ways to do it, but the end goal is the same.
Maybe you tell them to "imagine", maybe you say "please hear me out", maybe you "hypnotize" them, maybe you distract them, or maybe you come up with some other context that allows them to choose not to respond. Just get them to shut up and listen.
I've had a lot of success with "I have something to say, and I think it's important - but I'm worried that you won't take it well. I just want to let you know how I see it - you don't even have to respond. Okay?"
Also, when it's their turn to talk, shut up and really listen.

Make it real for them
Saying the right things isn't worth much if you don't say it right. The wrong delivery can even actively hurt your cause - for example if you say it while projecting self-doubt. So don't bother coming up with the magical spell that is ego-strokingly clever if it feels forced to say it.
Mean what you say. Look them in the eye and say it like you fucking mean it - really do mean it - and they'll take it much more seriously that way.
Choose your words to engage near mode reasoning. Paint them a picture so they can experience first hand the implications of your words.

Stay on track
People will try to bait you down all sorts of paths that aren't worth taking. Sometimes they'll make false objections, just to be logically rude, and change paths before you can kill it dead.
I know it can be tempting - especially if they're pushing your buttons. Just don't take the bait. Especially if they're pushing your buttons.
I know it can be tempting to take shortcuts. Sometimes resolving objections can seem long and tiresome, so you're tempted to just take the direct route and drive over the obstacles instead. "Well, it's a bit of a rough road, but I think we can make it!". For example, you might think "well, they're a bit biased against my idea, but if I can just show them proof I won't have to debias them first!". It's not worth the risk - especially if you actually feel tempted rather than making a calculated decision. Stick to the main road.
If you're off track, your highest priority is to get back on track. Pressing on is not going to help, and can very easily make things more difficult.
Even if you tried everything and can't figure out how to get on track, it's better to do nothing. Better to just sit and wait.
They'll eventually help you get back on track. And even if they don't - unproductive conversations are worse than no conversations. Plus, sometimes if you goof and end up firing up a ton of resistance, people will cool off and be more receptive later.

Respond to the implicit message
It's one thing to not believe people when they're bullshitting, but you also don't want to pretend to believe it. Even with good models of people, it can be tempting to get caught up in responding to what they say, rather than responding to the subtext. For example, if someone is trying to tell you that they aren't feeling an emotion that is visible, pretending to believe them is one more wild goose chase.
If you know that they don't really believe it, then don't act like they do. Just ignore the explicit message and respond to the implicit.

Mind the gaps
It is critical to mind the inferential gap. If you explain something without them being on board with the prerequisites, the effort is wasted. And I don't mean with just explicit level beliefs. In fact, I mean mostly with aliefs - no one would try start a math proof with "QED!", yet people do try to do the analogous and tell an anxiety case "Well, then just don't worry about it!"
Consider a smoker that says "yeah yeah, I know it's bad for me" and then doesn't feel disgusted by the idea of smoking. He has the explicit level belief that it's bad, but there's a disconnect somewhere down the line. Back up and zip 'er up! You can reason people into changing their "immune-to-reason" quirks, but the work is all done on the alief level.
If your conversational partner goes "yeah, makes sense" throughout the conversation and yet you still have that hunch that they won't act on it.... Then back up! They need to see and feel the merit of your arguments. Not "yeah, it seems like it" or even "yes, of course! I knew that already!" - you want "yes, of course..." or "...shit, you're right". You want it to seem either 1) matter of fact, like the way people answer when you ask their name or 2) the way they act when they have just made a profound realization. If they're qualifying ("seems like", "you could say", "i guess", "maybe", etc), then they're not there yet. If they're in a rush to move on - like trying to convince you that they're on the same page, or trying to punish you for asking "obvious" questions, or just visibly uncomfortable acknowledging your point, then you aren't ready to move on. You haven't solidly positioned them onto this square yet.
The same goes for motives. Are they acting like you have different goals? If so, they aren't going to follow because they're worrying about being screwed over. As often as you need to, back up and re-prime them with what it takes to get them to remember that they trust you. It can happen a lot with scary topics - don't take it personally. Always pay attention to the special case of status incentives.
If they aren't solidly on the same page as you, do not continue - since doing that will only widen the gap. Back up until you're on the same page, and take it one step at a time.

Acknowledge their objections and desires
If someone has an objection, they're not gonna follow until it's dealt with. If you respond by automatically getting defensive or showing them you think it’s stupid, they're going to see it as an attempt to blindly persuade. And if they see it as you not listening to them, then they aren't going to dismiss the concern - and they shouldn't.
So acknowledge it and move on. "Yeah, I see what you're saying, and here's how we get by that" or "Yeah, that actually doesn't work, and I promise we'll get back to that, but I have to explain something else first", or whatever it is.
Sometimes it takes more to properly 'acknowledge' something. Sometimes you can just say "yeah, I get it" in passing. Sometimes you have to pause, slow down, look them in the eye - and emphasize it. Generally, the idea is to look like you have an open mind - and the best way to do that is to actually have an open mind. Don't you be laughing inside about how they think you're taking them seriously!
Sometimes it's just easier to give 'em what they want. There was a limiting alief that "couldn't just go away without a reason" - so I gave it a reason. I did a "magic voodoo dance". She was laughing at how silly the whole situation was, but placebos can work even when you know they're placebos.
Do it however you want, but make sure they feel like their thoughts and feelings are acknowledged.

Make sure they acknowledge yours
It feels very different to say "yeahbutblah!" than it does to say "I acknowledge that [summary of their point]<take a new breath>. And I still think blah". One is trying to shoo away the messenger before reading the message (this angers the messenger), while the other is looking at the information and actually incorporating it.
Make sure they do it right, and don't continue until they do - this is how you make sure they're on the same page. If they try to say "yeahbut[objection]" then they're showing you that they haven't read your message. They're telling you "I don't have to read your message because look - I already know it's wrong". Unless you really hadn't thought of that objection, you've gotta back up and get them to acknowledge your message. It's absolutely pointless to try to send the next until they've received this one.
You should feel no residual uneasiness. No "sigh... if only people would listen". No "I think he gets it". Just "they understand."

Present only unarguable facts
As far as what it says about your beliefs, "X" is nearly equivalent to "I believe X", yet the latter is much harder to argue against. People tend to know what they believe, even when that belief itself is wrong - and this is important.
If you just say "X", they'll be tempted to respond "Not X". If you say "I believe X", they probably aren't going to say "no you don't!". They might still say "well, that makes you wrong", but that's less likely now that you're not provoking them as much. There's an option to ask "why do you believe X?"
Instead of saying "you're just trying to look higher status and its getting in the way of reasonable conversation", preface it with "I know you wouldn't do it on purpose, but to me, it looks like...".
You're not making an accusation. You're just stating a fact. It is what it is.
It changes the statement from something that they will have motive to disagree with to something that they can't really argue. You do perceive it that way, and its a lot harder to argue that you don't - yet it gets the same message across.

Require commitment
Don’t underestimate the importance of commitment and consistency. Commitment and consistency is the save-game of influence. Never underestimate it.
"So you agree about X?" "Yep" "So that implies you should do Y - are you going to do Y?" Make sure they mean it when they say they will. If they don't, do not proceed. Demand that they're congruently with you before moving on. Paint a clear picture of all the implications and have them sign on the dotted line.
Even when you're not demanding explicit commitment, get implicit commitment. Get them nodding along, or at least not looking at you like they disagree. Say things that when unchallenged implicitly show agreement.
Not only does this tell you that you're on the same page, but it tells them that they can't back out.
If you've been following my blog this whole time, this should be painfully obvious, but this isn't just a conscious level "I wish I could back out, but I can't because I said..". It's just how we work. It's a shortcut to use our cached answers.

When all else fails, go meta
It’s not always easy to do all of these things, especially with someone that is set on fighting you - and that'll happen when you drive people into ugh-fields. Unfortunately, all the low hanging fruit are in the dark and scary ugh-fields - precisely because they're abandoned.
Sometimes you can follow the rules above and it'll go fairly smoothly. Sometimes it won't. Sometimes you keep getting pulled on tangents - and then what you thought was solid commitment is undone and they "forget" what you've covered so far. They're not playing nice, and that itself is a problem. It's a problem that's keeping you from solving the problem you showed up to solve.
That's when you go meta. Turn your sights on that problem (e.g. I get that it's scary to think about, but you know you don't have to do anything you don't want to, and it's important to think about it with a clear head).
If they throw up a block on the meta level, go meta on that. If they do it again, then go meta on their habit of blocking your meta attempts. If they block that.... then I dunno man, you're kinda SOL.
Once the meta levels are clear, you can get back to work on the object level. I've only ever had to go up a second conversational meta level once - usually one will do it.

This might all just sound like a "how to have productive conversations" - and yes, it is how to have productive conversations. But take it further. Get more powerful results by delivering suggestions with focus and intent - and getting rock solid confirmation. Get previously unattainable results by being impossible to disagree with and riding your path to the finish - despite distractions and obstacles.
Next time someone gets hurt, show them that they can just feel the pain and have it not bother them. Next time you want to tell the undiscriminating skeptic that he doesn't know how to think - do so in a way that results in lasting change instead of an enemy.
Spend some time developing these skills and watch your locus of control grow.

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